In Madrid I work with the head of the English department at La Salle, San Rafael. It is a school with students from infants to high school. The students start learning English in elementary school, but once they are in 6th grade they begin to take separate English classes with the two English teachers at the school. I spend most of my classes with the head of the English department, Paul, and I also have other classes with the other teacher, Marta. Since the students are older when they begin taking English, the students I work with range from 12 to 17 years old. This is a little older than the elementary age groups I have normally worked with but it has been very interesting to get a new perspective on a different group of students.
From the lessons I have observed, it has been interesting to see how closely the teacher adhere to the workbooks the students have. Unlike having a separate curriculum to follow, the teachers just have a company’s workbook for the students which they use for activities and exercises. The book often has smaller and more involved exercises which the students often complete in their cooperative groups. Paul was explaining to me that the students are supposed to be working in the cooperative groups as much as they possibly can. They will often work to complete some activity using the vocabulary and grammar they are learning. For example, the younger students once had to create a lost pet poster, using descriptive adjectives to describe in detail the pet they had lost. Some of the older students also had to create their ideal class schedule, deciding what classes to take, when to begin school, how long each class was supposed to be, etc.
In observing these lessons, I have seen how the teachers use the books as a source of material and exercises for the students, while they often gauge themselves if the students need more or less support, and accordingly they will decide how much of the information needs to be gone over in the whole group and how much can be practiced practically with their peers. The students like working in their cooperative groups, but at times it does make it difficult to have everyone stay on task. Once in the groups, it is easier for students to get distracted, or simply start speaking Spanish. The teachers will walk around and try to monitor the groups. Most of the comprehension check is done when students have to share their answers and what they have talked about.
This is a fairly similar teaching style from what I have seen in the US, however I think in the US teachers oftentimes do not rely so heavily on one book to help guide their lessons. Lessons in the US are more often taken from multiple different sources, or are more created by the teacher. I think part of it may be that I am working with older students, who have a little more regulations on the material they are taught due to the testing that occurs when they are in high school in order to get into university.
Even still, it has been very enlightening to be able to work with nearly every age group from 12-17 at La Salle, and I have been able to see how the progression of the teaching functions until the students get into their junior year of high school, where English class becomes optional. I am looking forward to being able to take on more responsibilities in my classrooms, teaching a few lessons, and continuing to see how the students grow and develop. It has been very interesting to compare to the US education system, and with time I am only getting more insight.